Recent Street Closures (and Openings) in Los Angeles
One of our strategies in getting a Ciclovía started in Los Angeles is to take stock of how the city already uses street closures. Streets here are frequently closed for festivals, parades, marathons and the like. This is good news for Ciclovía enthusiasts because it means that the practice of opening streets to people is already alive and well in Los Angeles, we just need to season it to our particular flavor of street closure, and step up the frequency. We’ve been visiting street closure events to see how they work in Los Angeles, and what happens to life on a street when it is closed to cars and opened to people.
Martin Luther King Parade – January 19th 2009
Along MLK the sidwalks were very crowded, as this is a heavily attended event. At times it was difficult to move along the route because people filled the entire sidewalk and median strip, and people were not allowed to walk in the street (the parade route). This is in sharp contrast to a ciclovía, where the street provides the means for people to move. This parade was more oriented towards the public being an audience rather than participants. Since bus routes were disrupted by the total closure of the area to vehicles, it was also difficult to get to and from the event. One interesting feature of this event is that there were many independent vendors selling drinks, snacks and T-shirts to the crowds of pedestrians. Overall, we saw a lot of pedestrian street activity, but their mobility was hampered by the parade itself. Watching a parade that honors Dr. King’s legacy is fun and inspiring, but let’s get those butts in motion!
Here we see that this drive through on MLK was temporarily converted to a walk through to accomodate the crowds of pedestrians. This shows that some car-oriented infrastructure is easily converted to pedestrian amenities when the conditions are right! Might be nice to offer crowds more healthful snacks than donuts and bacon wrapped hot dogs, though they are yummy.
Thai New Year (Songkran) Festival – April 5th 2009
The Thai New Year Festival features a street closure and parade on Hollywood Blvd from Vermont to Western. This event was of particular interest to us because this is the ciclovía route that was suggested by Councilmember Eric Garcetti’s office, and connects with Barnsdall art park. The street was empty for a few hours after they closed the street to cars but before the parade started. Pedestrians mostly stuck to the sidewalk during this time when it wasn’t clear who was allowed in the street. We of course walked right down the middle of the 4 lane boulevard at the first opportunity!
As this parade was not nearly as crowded as the MLK parade, onlookers were free to walk along the street with the performers, creating a more open environment. This gave it more of a ciclovía feel as onlookers were able to move through the event easily and enjoy the car-free space.
Generally at all the street closures we have been to, drivers seem to take the closure in stride and just find another route. For some reason this motorist thought it was too far to walk to the parking lot of Barnsdall Art Park 100 feet away, and moved the barricades herself to drive through. While she probably would not have done this had the street been full of people and not empty as it was at this time, it illustrates the motoring mind set. Funny thing is, she was probably stuck in the parking lot for several hours after the parade got going and filled the street.
LA Marathon – May 25 2009
The LA Marathon is probably the biggest street closure in Los Angeles, and the one most akin to a ciclovía. 26 miles of street are closed to cars for the walkers and joggers in the marathon. While people are supposed to sign up (and pay hefty fees) to be in the marathon, the street is open to anyone else that wants to use it. I followed the route along Olympic Blvd., and the official marathoners were using only 1 or 2 lanes of the 4 lane street. I encountered many bicyclists and pedestrians who just showed up to use the car-free space (like myself). This event is a great illustration of the huge capacity for people of boulevards in Los Angeles. When you are standing in the middle of one of these roads you get an appreciation for how large they really are.
Along Olympic were more examples of car facilities repurposed for human use. In addition to the walk-through drive-throughs, many parking lots were repurposed for events. Here a Korean teen rock band performed in the parking lot of a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
These three events show the potential for closing streets to cars in Los Angeles. With the LA Marathon we see the clearest example of opening the streets to people instead of cars. The practices of street closure and human-scale street use already exist, we just need to push them a little further to the weekly ciclovía concept. Then we will have a truly radical intervention for people in Los Angeles.
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